Defending Their Hardware

They're two-time defending SEC Tournament champions, so when Ole Miss meets South Carolina in Lexington, Ky., this afternoon at 2 (CT), the Rebels might have a bit of a chip on their collective shoulders.

But they don't, not according to the players. They head to UK as the No. 5 seed, and they know they will have to be at their best to claim a third straight title.

"We know how to win this tournament," said Chris Thiemann, a sophomore, and a member of last year's squad. "We've done it twice in a row. So we can do it. If we beat South Carolina, then we'll have a big match against Kentucky. Everything's possible in this tournament."

But it will be more difficult than the past two years for one important reason. The Rebels won't get a first-round (top four) bye for the first time since 1994. They will have to win four matches instead of three to claim a third consecutive title.

First up are the 12-seeded Gamecocks, who the fifth-seeded Rebels beat in Columbia 5-2 earlier this season.

"We are up against a South Carolina team that is extremely talented," Ole Miss head coach Billy Chadwick said. "They played us down to the wire the last time we played them. They are playing well right now. Their coach is retiring this year, so I'm sure their guys are inspired to do the best that they can. We'll have our hands full."

Ole Miss enters the SEC Tournament ranked No. 19 in the nation with a 16-6 overall record. They went 7-4 in the SEC and captured their ninth consecutive SEC West title. The Rebs would like to host a NCAA Regional, but to do so they'll need a strong showing at the tournament.

If they get past USC today, Chadwick said the Rebels will then have their hands full on Friday against fourth-seeded and host Kentucky.

"If the tournament was held anywhere but Kentucky, I would love it," Chadwick said. "They've been very successful at home. In fact, they beat the No. 1 team in the country, Virginia, at home, and they beat us soundly there. If we're fortunate to get past South Carolina (today), we'll have a very tough assignment."

But after winning their last three SEC matches against Auburn, Alabama and Mississippi State to claim another West title, the Rebels are feeling good about things.

"Of course we are very confident," said Chris Thiemann. "We have all improved this season. We hope we can do something special."

"Everybody's excited about this tournament," said Chris' twin brother, Marcel Thiemann. "Even the matches we lost, most of them were close. We are the two-time defending champion. I don't know any reason why we can't do it again."

Confident indeed.

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